Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones attempted to clarify his stance on same-sex marriage this weekend after news leaked that he was poised to become the next Chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia.
Jones's camp confirmed on Friday that Governor Terry McAuliffe had asked the Mayor to take over the post as the Party's spokesman after current Chair Charnelie Herring (who is running for Congress) steps down later this month. Jones has the support of all of the statewide elected leaders, but still needs to earn the approval of the party's membership. At this point there are no other candidates and it is rare for a sitting Governor's hand picked nominee to not be approved by the rank and file.
UPDATE- An upstart group of Northern Virginians has launched a counter campaign to the Jones effort. "Forward VA" is floating the name of Catherine Read, a NoVa progessive activist as an alternative to Jones. Read herself has not formally announced her plans to challenge Jones.
However Jones's appointment, which seem to seep out earlier than the party was prepared for, is being met with a degree of backlash from a vocal and increasingly important wing of the Democratic Party. Jones continues to maintain a personal opposition to same-sex marriage, a position that has drawn the ire of supporters of the LGBT community.
Del. Patrick Hope, a Northern Virginia liberal and one of many democrats seeking the party's nomination in the race to replace Rep. Jim Moran, forcefully denounced Jones's candidacy and said he could not support him if he did not switch his position.
“The chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia needs to reflect our values as a party,” Hope said in a statement. “This has been a historic year for marriage equality, and we cannot have a chair of the party that does not support this civil right.”
The issue is a delicate one for Jones. He continues to serve as pastor at his South Richmond church, regularly preaching on Sundays. While Jones toes the line on most progressive issues, same sex marriage is one where he remains on the side of his church. However in a statement provided to NBC12, Jones's political director stressed that he remains committed to equality across the board.
"Mayor Jones believes that all Virginians, no matter race, gender, or sexual orientation, deserve complete and equal protection under the law," wrote Don Mark. "He has always made it a priority to make sure that Richmond is a open, inclusive, and welcoming community to everyone by signing the first nondiscrimination executive order ever in City Hall, proclaiming the first Transgender Day of Remembrance, and appointing the first police liaison to the LGBT community."
Jones has made noteworthy advances in recognizing members of the LGBT community in the Mayor's office. His position, that stresses equality but stops short of definitive support for same-sex marriage, mirrors that the of the DPVA platform.
"We respect and value gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Virginians and support their efforts for equal treatment under the law," the platform reads.
But the issue of same-sex marriage is changing at a break neck pace. It wasn't long ago that you'd be hard pressed to find a politician of either party willing to step out and endorse gay marriage. Today all five of Virginia's state wide leaders support same sex marriage. The state's constitutional ban on the practice was recently ruled to be in violation of the federal constitution. (It currently remains in place pending appeal.
State democrats have roundly supported the efforts to throw the amendment out. Jones has yet to take a public position.
While there appears to be a boiling scuttle around Jones's potential chairmanship there is no indication that statewide leaders plan to back away from his candidacy. At this point not one of them have publicly acknowledged the possibility of him serving.
There is still time for this issue to be hashed out, but not much. The party will gather in less than two weeks and a new chairperson will need to be named.
We will keep you posted.